CONCORD — Moderna’s announcement Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 94.5 percent effective is raising hope in New Hampshire as confirmed cases in the state continue to skyrocket.
It’s the second promising vaccine to come forward after drugmaker Pfizer said last week its vaccine candidate is 90 percent effective.
Many are thrilled at the prospect of a vaccine by late December, but others are angry that Gov. Chris Sununu continues to refuse to issue a statewide mask mandate and is limiting contact tracing.
Rich DiPentima, former acting state epidemiologist, said he has run out of negative adjectives for how Sununu is handling the pandemic. “He has thrown up his hands and given into the virus completely,” DiPentima said of Sununu.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health and Human Services said in a draft policy that the first phase to get the vaccine will include older adults living in residential care settings like nursing homes and assisted living facilities, first responders and high-risk workers in health-care facilities.
Other older adults in congregate settings such as senior living complexes will be included in Phase 1b.
“Decisions regarding allocation of vaccine for phases beyond 1a have not yet been firmly established; however, these decisions will be informed by the national guidance,” the draft stated.
The current distribution plan includes starting each phase in geographic areas with the highest COVID-19 disease case count.
But infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has cautioned against sitting back and waiting for the vaccine. Instead, people should double down on their efforts such as universally wearing masks, socially distancing, hand washing and avoiding social gatherings.
“The virus is not going to stop and call a time-out,” Fauci said.
He acknowledged that people are suffering from “COVID-fatigue.” But, he said: “We don’t have to accept major surges. We can blunt them.”
In fact, on Friday, Vermont announced it is closing bars, banning multi-household social gatherings and recreational sports.
On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced the reopening its first field hospital with 240 beds at the DCU Center in Worcester.
Over the weekend, Michigan and Washington state also announced strict measures. Michigan ordered high schools and colleges to stop onsite teaching and prohibited indoor restaurant dining.
Washington state also prohibited indoor dining and ordered theaters, gyms and museums to close.
From Friday through Sunday, New Hampshire’s new cases reached 1,207, with four new deaths of elderly people.
On Monday, the state reported 358 new positive test results for COVID-19 and the death of a man from Coos County who was older than 60.
Sununu’s spokesman Ben Vihstadt emailed a response to questions about actions other governors are taking, criticism about the lack of mask mandate and cutting down on contact tracing, and on Moderna’s announcement.
“The state reviews all mandates, restrictions, and updates to guidance protocols that nearby states enact, and the governor constantly reviews the data to inform New Hampshire’s response,” Vihstadt said.
Regarding the vaccine, Sununu said, “It’s a great point of pride that the Moderna Vaccine is being manufactured right here in New Hampshire.”
Brendan Williams, who heads New Hampshire Healthcare Association, is on the record as supporting a statewide mask mandate.
“Too often states that resist imposing them — North Dakota and Utah being the most recent examples — have seen a terrifying level of community transmission and suffering before reversing themselves,” Williams said.
Of the virus, he said, “inexorably it makes its way into long-term care, whether a great family-owned facility in Newport, a 5-star Catholic Charities building in Dover, or one of Coos County’s nursing homes in the remote northern part of our state,” Williams said.
Contact tracing and mandatory mask orders are the two most effective tools Sununu could order, DiPentima said.
DiPentima said after the election, he expected Sununu to at least issue a mandatory mask order.
“I am beside myself. He has thrown up his hands,” DiPentima said. “We need a mask order and to expand, not shrink, contact tracing.”